Families have gotten smaller and smaller over the years. Many people opt not to have children. It’s more common than ever for someone to get into their senior years with no remaining living family.
Too often, people in that situation don’t believe they need an estate plan – even a will. They may think they don’t have enough assets to worry about, and they don’t care what happens to them.
However, if you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”), you’ve essentially handed over all control of your belongings and your legacy to the state. Everything will be handled by the probate court. Your assets will be divided among any remaining family members – even if you didn’t know about their existence, had lost touch with them decades ago or were completely estranged from them.
Georgia’s intestacy success laws
Each state has intestacy succession laws that are fairly similar. Here in Georgia, a spouse and children would be first in line. If you have no surviving spouse or children, then any other descendants (grandchildren and great-grandchildren) would be next.
If there is no spouse or descendants, parents are next in line, if they’re alive. If not, surviving siblings or their descendants would be next. If there are none of those, the estate could go to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Are you absolutely sure you have none of those? Could there be a child your brother never told you about? Is a cousin still alive that you never met? Maybe your ne’er-do-well nephew you’re sure was dead cleaned up his act and is alive and well and only too happy to get the contents of your retirement account.
It’s up to whomever the probate court appoints to administer your estate to find any heirs. Do you want people you don’t know inheriting your assets or would you rather leave them to a non-profit organization or a friend? You can do that if you have a will.
If no family members, no matter how distant, are located, your estate is escheated to the state of Georgia. That means the state gets whatever assets are left after any debts are paid.
Of course, a will is only one part of a thorough estate plan. However, even that one document can help you have the final say in who receives your assets.